What’s in a Name?

“Reader” By h.koppdelaney, via Flickr

“Reader” By h.koppdelaney, via Flickr

Nameless here for evermore.” – The Raven, Edgar Allan Poe

Recently I got married, and in the moments when I wasn’t deciding where my grandmother would sit during the ceremony, or trying to remember if I ate lunch that day, a quandary of many female writers weighed on my mind–once married, should I publish using my married name?

Many writers or dispensers of writing advice will tell you NOT to publish under your married name because, frankly, statistics are not in your favor. You could become Mrs. Fabulous-Last-Name (hyphenated, of course) only to find yourself divorced within five to ten years with that pesky pen name following you from book cover to book cover as a reminder of your ex.

Others will tell you not to take your partner’s name, particularly if they will be publishing too.  I always thought this argument was a little backwards. I’m sure Tabitha King has had some success because of her famous husband. And the Brownings literary success seemed mutually beneficial too. Shouldn’t having the same name as your famous partner help to boost your own success?

Before deciding whether or not to take my partner’s name, let’s take a look at the name I have: Ashley Johnson.

Do you know how many Ashley Johnson’s there are in the world? I was even a member of a Facebook group dedicated to the name that has thousands of members (which has since mysteriously disappeared from my profile).

Do you remember Chrissy form the TV Show Growing Pains? That actress is named Ashley Johnson.

Not only was “Ashley” the most popular girls’ name in 1991 and 1992, the surname “Johnson” is downright boring. For that matter it’s not even mine. My Irish ancestors used the name to come to America at least a century ago. I could be an O’Malley or a Kelly for all I know.

If you need another reason, I had a nightmarish nickname: Big Johnson.

Some of my fellow writers suggested I abandon my entire name and take on a new identity, complete with vague ethnic origins, a signature handshake, and subtle adjustments to my gait. The name they concocted for me was good. Too good, in fact, to share, in case I decide to use it to write erotica or science fiction.

These reasons aside, I’ve chosen to take my partner’s name (albeit selfishly) because I like it better than mine. To me it sounds literary. It sounds like the person I want to be.

And, I figure it can’t hurt throwing my middle initial in there. It worked for J. K. Rowling.

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Stonecoast’s Faculty Blog’s Literary Moments of 2012


Here’s  a post I wrote for my other blogging gig, check it out.

Originally posted on Stonecoast Faculty Blog:

“2012” by hellojenuine courtesy of Flickr

“2012” by hellojenuine courtesy of Flickr

It’s that time of year when the world makes lists: best-of, top-this, best-that. In the tradition of fostering reflection, the Stonecoast Faculty Blog has come up with our own end-of-year list, our Literary Moments of 2012 (in no particular order). Have some literary moments of your own? We’d love to read them—just leave them in the comments below.

No Pulitzer Awarded for Fiction

Pencils dropped last April when the Pulitzer judges did not award a prize for fiction. The Pulitzer judges have withheld an award for fiction 11 times, the last time being in 1977. Three finalists were identified for the 2012 prize: Train Dreams by Denis Johnson, Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, and The Pale King by David Foster Wallace.”The three books were fully considered, but in the end, none mustered the mandatory majority for granting a prize, so no prize was awarded,”…

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Who Needs Macy’s?

One of the many joys of moving back to Montana is the opportunity to observe the quaint traditions of the community where I live, namely, the Annual Holiday Parade. Granted, there were no balloons or Businessmen of Whimsy, but as you will see, a Western Holiday Parade is fraught with entertainment value.

Top 6 Things You’ll See in a Western Parade

1) A float in a Western Parade isn’t complete without a pair of antlers.

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When Artists Retire

image courtesy of The Philip Roth Society

Last week, several American news outlets reported that novelist Philip Roth had written his last book.

Here is an excerpt from an article posted on Salon.com:

Roth said that at 74, realizing he was running out of years, he reread all his favorite novels, and then reread all his books in reverse chronological order. “I wanted to see if I had wasted my time writing,” he said. “And I thought it was rather successful. At the end of his life, the boxer Joe Louis said: ‘I did the best I could with what I had.’ This is exactly what I would say of my work: I did the best I could with what I had.

“And after that, I decided that I was done with fiction. I do not want to read, to write more,” he said. “I have dedicated my life to the novel: I studied, I taught, I wrote and I read. With the exclusion of almost everything else. Enough is enough! I no longer feel this fanaticism to write that I have experienced in my life.”

As an artist at the beginning of my career, Roth’s statements seem hard to believe. With more books to read than I can count, and story ideas that keep me awake at night, how could a lifetime be possibly long enough to read everything I want to read and write everything I want to write?

Roth’s statements bring to light a great debate or paradox for many artists: is being an artist a job or a calling?

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Revising My Life

After finishing a draft of a story, some authors put the story in a drawer so that, when enough time has passed, they can pull it out and look at it with fresh eyes. In an example of life imitating art, for the past year my life has been a draft of a story sitting in a drawer, waiting to be taken out.

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Teaching to a Mirror

photo by Elsie esq.

In the middle of tutoring the other day, my student turned to me and said, “It seems too easy.” I couldn’t understand why she was missing questions on a quiz that she usually got right. I pointed out the answers to her and she said “Yeah, but shouldn’t it be harder than that?”

My next student seemed to need a road map of our tutoring session. If I said we were going to practice reading strategies he wanted to know if we were going to correct the homework. If I said I wanted him to do extra practice on subject-verb agreement he needed to know if that was part of the homework or if he needed to do it right then. Despite my assurances that we would cover all the material, every instruction I gave was followed with “Yes, but are we going to,” just to make sure I stayed on track.

I could take each of these situations personally, and assume my students’ reactions are a poor reflection on my teaching ability, but at the end of that day, something bigger occurred to me. I wasn’t worrying that I was a crappy teacher. What was painfully clear was that my students are a reflection of me.

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Cinderella Collection by Sephora: Playing Dress Up as an Adult

image courtesy of Sephora

Once upon a time, I was a little girl and I loved Disney. My toy-box wasn’t filled with blonde, blue-eyed Barbies, it was a museum of Disney cartoons in Mattel® form: Ariel, Jasmine, Belle.

I watched the movies, read the storybooks, wore the t-shirts, had the matching curtains and comforter for my bedroom (it was 1989, they were Little Mermaid). I lived in a replicated fantasy that Disney had created for me.

Then I grew up. I realized Ariel was swimming around in a seashell bra and had an alarmingly tiny waist. I watched as the Disney Princesses needed a Prince to come to their rescue. I saw the branding and merchandising take over with “princess culture” and felt puzzled, maybe even duped. Did Disney care about creating fantasies for me or did they just want me to buy the matching toothbrush to go along with my pajamas?

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